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The Locus Awards
Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Death of Doctor Island
A grain of sand, teetering on the brink of the pit, trembled and fell in; the ant lion at the bottom angrily flung it out again. For a moment there was quiet. Then the entire pit, and a square meter of sand around it, shifted drunkenly while two coconut palms bent to watch. The sand rose, pivoting at one edge, and the scarred head of a boy appeared -- a stubble of brown hair threatened to erase the marks of the sutures; with dilated eyes hypnotically dark he paused, his neck just where the ant lion's had been; then, as though goaded from below, he vaulted up and onto the beach, turned, and kicked sand into the dark hatchway from which he had emerged. It slammed shut. The boy was about fourteen.
For a time he squatted, pushing the sand aside and trying to find the door. A few centimeters down, his hands met a gritty, solid material which, though neither concrete nor sandstone, shared the qualities of both -- a sandfilled organic plastic. On it he scraped his fingers raw, but he could not locate the edges of the hatch.
Then he stood and looked about him, his head moving continually as the heads of certain reptiles do -- back and forth, with no pauses at the terminations of the movements. He did this constantly, ceaselessly -- always -- and for that reason it will not often be described again, just as it will not be mentioned that he breathed. He did; and as he did, his head, like a rearing snake's, turned from side to side. The boy was thin, and naked as a frog.
Ahead of him the sand sloped gently down toward sapphire water; there were coconuts on the beach, and sea shells, and a scuttling crab that played with the finger-high edge of each dying wave. Behind him there were only palms and sand for a long distance, the palms growing ever closer together as they moved away from the water until the forest of their columniated trunks seemed architectural; like some palace maze becoming as it progressed more and more draped with creepers and lianas with green, scarlet and yellow leaves, the palms interspersed with bamboo and deciduous trees dotted with flaming orchids until almost at the limit of his sight the whole ended in a spangled wall whose predominant color was black-green.
The boy walked toward the beach, then down the beach until he stood in knee-deep water as warm as blood. He dipped his fingers and tasted it -- it was fresh, with no hint of the disinfectants to which he was accustomed. He waded out again and sat on the sand about five meters up from the highwater mark, and after ten minutes, during which he heard no sound but the wind and the murmuring of the surf, he threw back his head and began to scream. His screaming was high-pitched, and each breath ended in a gibbering, ululant note, after which came the hollow, iron gasp of the next indrawn breath. On one occasion he had screamed in this way, without cessation, for fourteen hours and twenty-two minutes, at the end of which a nursing nun with an exemplary record stretching back seventeen years had administered an injection without the permission of the attending physician.
After a time the boy paused -- not because he was tired, but in order to listen better. There was, still, only the sound of the wind in the palm fronds and the murmuring surf, yet he felt that he had heard a voice. The boy could be quiet as well as noisy, and he was quiet now, his left hand sifting white sand as clean as salt between its fingers while his right tossed tiny pebbles like beachglass beads into the surf.
"Hear me," said the surf. "Hear me. Hear me."
"I hear you," the boy said.
"Good," said the surf, and it faintly echoed itself: "Good, good, good."
The boy shrugged.
"What shall I call you?" asked the surf.
"My name is Nicholas Kenneth de Vore."
"Nick, Nick . . . Nick?"
The boy stood, and turning his back on the sea, walked inland. When he was out of sight of the water he found a coconut palm growing sloped and angled, leaning and weaving among its companions like the plume of an ascending jet blown by the wind. After feeling its rough exterior with both hands, the boy began to climb; he was inexpert and climbed slowly and a little clumsily, but his body was light and he was strong. In time he reached the top, and disturbed the little brown plush monkeys there, who fled chattering into other palms, leaving him to nestle alone among the stems of the fronds and the green coconuts. "I am here also," said a voice from the palm.
"Ah," said the boy, who was watching the tossing, sapphire sky far over his head.
"I will call you Nicholas."
The boy said, "I can see the sea."
"Do you know my name?"
The boy did not reply. Under him the long, long stem of the twisted palm swayed faintly.
"My friends all call me Dr. Island."
"I will not call you that," the boy said.
"You mean that you are not my friend."
A gull screamed.
"But you see, I take you for my friend. You may say that I am not yours, but I say that you are mine. I like you, Nicholas, and I will treat you as a friend."
"Are you a machine or a person or a committee?" the boy asked.
"I am all those things and more. I am the spirit of this island, the tutelary genius."
"Now that we have met, would you rather I leave you alone?"
Again the boy did not reply ... The Locus Awards
Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Copyright © by Charles Brown. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.